We had a remarkable week exploring children’s rights in Costa Rica. As I often say when teaching, the law is ultimately about people. And this Study Abroad trip provided an opportunity to see how the law interacts with and affects the lived experience of diverse communities, from migrants living in an informal settlement in San Jose to indigenous peoples living in rural Costa Rica. Our final day included two site visits:
Tecnológico de Costa Rica (TEC), a university with an innovative program focused on increasing access to higher education for indigenous students in Costa Rica. Thank you to Diana Segura Sojo and the students in the program (you were all amazing; we learned so much and left inspired).
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Thank you for hosting us and giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the Court and its work (and its innovative ideas when it comes to remedies).
We are truly grateful to all the individuals and institutions who gave their time to our program, including especially our partners at the University for Peace Centre for Executive Education. Thanks also to GSU College of Law, its Center for Law, Health and Society, and the GSU Study Abroad Office for their support. Finally, I am grateful to the students on the program—their commitment inspires me and gives me hope for the future.
In the spirit of the TEC program, I end this “Wrap Up” post with the students’ voices. Selected reflections are included below:
Global Perspectives on Children and the Law is a fully immersive program that will help you truly understand the impact that human rights law can have on a vast number of individuals and communities. The program focused on various aspects of children rights issues, practices, and programs covering health, social, cultural, environmental, economic, and educational rights. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity not only to bond with a group of highly educated people and experience the reality of Costa Rica on a deeper level, but also it gave us tools to look at human rights law and the seemingly insurmountable world problems in a different lens. — Pamela Pedersen
I have gained a great appreciation for the Costa Rican people's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, providing access to education and healthcare while maintaining their culture. Something so monumental requires the full support of the citizens and that is evident here. It has opened my eyes to see that my way (or on a bigger scale, the US way) is not the only way. This trip has provided me with an appreciation for international law and direction for my career in law in the U.S. Lastly, somewhat unexpectedly, I learned a lot about healthcare in Costa Rica as compared to the US system which will enable me to take a more educated stance in my personal life. — Ashley O’Neil
We take for granted the notion that our ways of life are the only ways feasible. Math, as we perceive it, is a universal language. We can’t all learn the same. We can’t all be medicated the same. The challenge has been and continues to be incorporating two diverse worlds and having cultural pertinence in all aspects of an individual’s life. Visiting TEC made me realize how much our school systems lack in understanding that you can’t take a huge group of DIFFERENT kids and expect them to learn in the SAME manner. Visiting an indigenous community near San Vito showed me that you can have a universal understanding of what medicine is but also allow alternative methods of medicine to be incorporated — Mattou Mokri
This trip has been not only enlightening and educational, but also a lot of fun. I feel as if I’ve gotten a full tour of Costa Rica, from government agencies and programs, to city living and the beach. As they say in Costa Rica, Pura Vida! — Sophie Welf
Days 3 and 4: Over the past two days, we’ve had the opportunity to enrich our understanding of the lived experience of indigenous communities in the south of Costa Rica and the rights-based approach of the government to health and other interventions. The Casa de la Alegría program in Costa Rica offered a great example of an intervention that addresses the interrelated nature of children’s rights and the rights of their parents. In addition, our visit to La Casona, an indigenous territory, provided important insights into how health and human rights interventions can be adapted to meet communities where they are and ensure respect for local culture.
Many thanks to the following: Carlos Faerron Guzmán, from whom we learned so much; the other individuals who joined us for various parts of these two days and shared their knowledge; the communities that gave us the opportunity to visit and learn from them; and the Organization for Tropical Studies for hosting us.
Day 2: Another fantastic day in Costa Rica. It started with a thought-provoking, framework-challenging lecture from UPEACE Professor Olivia Sylvester on indigenous peoples’ rights, cultural traditions, and perspectives. This not only provided a critical foundation for some of the work will we do later in the week, but it also challenged all of us to think about what it really means to look at issues such as conservation, education, and human rights from the perspectives of indigenous peoples. Representatives from UNICEF and Defence for Children International then briefed us on the status of children’s rights and child well-being in Costa Rica. Finally, we had the opportunity to visit with PANI (the national child welfare agency) and also visit a group home for children. Through all of these presentations and visits, we were able to gain insights into the role of international organizations, government agencies, and local NGOs in advancing children’s rights.
Our thanks to all who shared their insights with us today.
More to come tomorrow….
Day 1: Sunday, our first day, was anything but a day of rest. We jumped run into things, spending the morning at the University for Peace, a United Nations-mandated university and our partner institution for this program, learning about social innovation and brainstorming about how design thinking might be applied to children’s rights issues.
After a lunchtime hike to the Monument to Disarmament, Labor, and Peace and beyond, we were privileged to spend the afternoon in the Triangulo de la Solidaridad informal settlement community in San Jose. We are so grateful to the Boy with a Ball team who were our guides and to the community who welcomed us and gave us a chance to learn about their lives.
I am excited to be leading a group of students once again on a Spring Break study abroad program in Costa Rica where we will be learning about children’s rights and exploring how children’s rights law is implemented in practice. Costa Rica provides a wonderful opportunity to see how children’s rights law operates in real-world settings.
This time we will be focusing in particular on the interrelated and interdependent nature of children’s rights and spending time with both migrant and indigenous communities.
We are grateful to be partnering again with the United Nations-mandated University for Peace and its Centre for Executive Education.
Updates will be posted on this blog.
For details on prior programs, see the links below:
All parents share one thing in common. Whatever our differences – across race, religion, socio-economic status, political beliefs, and more – every parent wants the best for their children. We disagree on a lot these days, but I haven’t heard a single parent wish that their children will do worse than they did.
Now consider this ambitious vision proclaimed almost thirty years ago: Every child in the world “should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding” and be raised “in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.” This ideal reflects what all of us would want for our children, for all children. After all, no parent hopes their children will suffer misery, war, and inequality.
This grand vision was announced in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Adopted in 1989, the CRC was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children. It established a holistic framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. The CRC covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).
Given the universal appeal of its goals, it won’t be surprising to hear that it’s the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history. Every country in the world has ratified the CRC, except the United States.
In the United States, the CRC has become a victim of much broader political and ideological battles, a phenomenon that too often tragically happens to children themselves. Highly charged rhetoric masks the reality of the CRC and children’s rights more broadly—that is, the fulfillment of children’s rights is consistent with what the vast majority of parents want for their kids. They want their children to have access to health care and education, to be free to observe their faith without government interference, to live without discrimination, and to grow up without suffering violence or exploitation.
Despite the major role the U.S. government played in drafting the CRC and the numerous similarities between U.S. law and the treaty, the U.S. government isn’t likely to ratify the CRC anytime soon.
But given the shared values in what parents dream of and what the CRC mandates for children, the idea of children’s rights remains relevant in the United States. We don’t have to wait passively for government to act; we can take action, guided by children’s rights values.
So, for Universal Children's Day (November 20) or any day thereafter, here are three steps each of us can take to forge common ground and improve the lives of children:
1. Read the CRC. Whether it is the CRC’s declaration that the family is “the fundamental group of society,” the 19 provisions of the CRC that recognize the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children, the treaty’s support for education, its prohibition on torturing children, or something else, find an element of the CRC that resonates with your values as a parent, family member, American, or human being.
2. Find and support (financially or as a volunteer) an organization in your community that advances an aspect of the CRC that you support.
3. Vote for kids. And not just on election day. Make your voice heard often, by urging your representatives to support initiatives that help secure the rights and wellbeing of children.
If we all can do that, then this Universal Children’s Day can be a turning point, a day when we found common ground on which to build a world where every child can develop to its full potential.
Although the start of the school year might seem like an odd time to discuss play, it is in facts a critical time to do so. As school starts, demands on children’s time increase significantly, typically leaving much less time for play, especially unstructured play.
Yet play is a vital to child development. As Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg explains in an article in Pediatrics:
‘Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.… Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills…. Play is integral to the academic environment…. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills.’
In other words, play is essential to the healthy development of children, and it enhances children’s capacity to succeed in school.
In addition, play is not just a good idea, it is also a human right—one that has been recognized since the beginning of the human rights movement. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document of the human rights movement adopted in 1948, states that: “Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay” (Article 24). The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child—the most comprehensive treaty on children’s rights and the most widely-accepted human rights treaty in history—establishes that governments must “recognize the right of [every] child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”
There is a reason why certain things—from education to free speech to prohibitions on torture—are recognized as rights. They are deeply connected to the dignity inherent in each human being. Play and its breadth of developmental benefits sustain and enhance human dignity. As policy makers, educators, and parents, our job is to ensure we secure every child’s right to play. And if we join them sometimes, we might even have fun too.
For more on play, here’s a link to a great source on play and its benefits: momlovesbest.
Since launching his presidential campaign, Donald Trump's rhetoric has often been divisive as well as demeaning of selected groups. This article examines the impact of Trump's rhetoric on children and their communities and explores the role that human rights education can play in responding to Trump and forging broader support for human rights. The article reviews the research on human rights education and considers how human rights education can be embedded in broader efforts to educate children. Using children's literature as a case study, the article argues for the importance of mainstreaming human rights education and meeting children where they are, in order to foster greater recognition of and respect for the rights of all individuals.
Full citation and link to article: Jonathan Todres, "The Trump Effect, Children, and the Value of Human Rights Education," Family Court Review, 56(2): 331-343 (2018).
A draft of the chapter is also available on SSRN.
Child Trafficking: Issues for Policy and Practice
V. Jordan Greenbaum, Katherine Yun, Jonathan Todres
Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics, 46(1): 159-163 (2018)
Efforts to address child trafficking require intensive collaboration among professionals of varied disciplines. Healthcare professionals have a major role in this multidisciplinary approach. Training is essential for all professionals, and policies and protocols may assist in fostering an effective, comprehensive response to victimization.
Click here for the full article.
I am honored to have been invited to give two talks at Leiden Law School in the Netherlands on March 22-23, 2018. I had the opportunity to share my research on human rights in children's literature with children's rights faculty, staff, and students, and then present on child trafficking to human rights students. In short, Leiden Law School is a wonderfully engaged and dynamic place. The faculty, staff, and students working on children's rights issues (and other human rights issues) were the perfect hosts. My sincere thanks to the entire community. I hope I can visit again soon.
For more on Leiden's children's rights program, click here.
p.s. The city of Leiden is wonderful too!
After about a month in a new country, it becomes harder to respond to questions with “we just arrived.” So as my family and I have crossed over that imaginary yet noticeable line between tourist on holiday and (temporary) resident, it seemed like the right time to reflect. With that in mind, here are five things I think about Ireland:
First, a month is nothing. What becomes more pronounced each day is how much I still have to learn about Ireland, its history, its people, and its cultural tapestry.
Second, winter is highly underrated. Most people typically visit places when it’s warm. There’s a reason why tourists seem to be everywhere in the summer. But if you never visit Ireland in winter, you are missing something. The winter light, especially in the morning, is beautiful, with a softness that is best left to poets to describe. And the lack of tourists has given us even more opportunity to connect with the community. Joseph Brodsky used to spend winters in Venice. I get it now.
Third, we love cliff walks. Okay, full disclosure, we’ve done only one so far (Ballycotton), and we got caught in a ten-minute hail storm, but other than that, it was sunny the whole time. And amazing! The cliff walk was a wonderful muddy adventure, and the ocean alongside us as we walked was majestic.
Fourth, on the work front, the Fulbright experience is an extraordinary opportunity. As researchers, we too often focus on, or succumb to the pressure of, producing the next publication. Make no mistake, I know I’m expected to keep producing while I’m on my Fulbright (and some might argue, produce even more). But the real gift of a Fulbright is the opportunity to slow down, to read, to make connections, and to reimagine one’s work and all its possible paths. As a child rights advocate/scholar, in just a few weeks, I’ve connected with partners in children’s rights, family law, human rights, social science, child development, public health, literature, and the arts, not to mention extraordinary individuals who work directly with children and youth in the community. All of this has inspired me to consider a range of projects and ideas for collaboration (some crazier than others). Regardless of which ideas go forward and when, this experience will shape my work for years to come.
Finally, in terms of lasting impressions, nothing surpasses the kindness of the people of Ireland. Everyone we have encountered has been so welcoming. I’ve lost count of the many moments of kindness – with colleagues, community advocates, school teachers and parents at our sons’ schools, employees at pubs and restaurants, bus drivers, and random strangers on the street. A couple Sundays ago, my wife, children, and I were wandering around the UCC campus in the late afternoon. We were in one building looking at an exhibit, when a security guard informed us the building was closing. However, when he learned we were new to Cork, instead of directing us to the door, he insisted on giving us a quick tour of a beautiful, historic room that we otherwise would have missed. That small but significant gesture epitomizes the kindness and generosity we’ve encountered everywhere. Our heartfelt thanks to him and to everyone who has made our family feel welcome. Certain places have reputations for being amazing in particular ways. Often the reality doesn’t live up to the hype. But not here. “Irish people are so friendly” we heard many times before we arrived. The reality far surpasses that. Even on grey days, everyone we meet is warm and welcoming. We feel very fortunate to be here.
I'm delighted to have received a Fulbright to conduct research and teach at University College Cork School of Law in Ireland for the Spring 2018 semester. I will be conducting research on human rights education for children, focusing on rights discourses in childrens literature and other spaces children inhabit. I also will be co-teaching an International Children's Rights course with Dean Ursula Kilkelly.
I will post updates from time to time. In the meantime, here's a glimpse of the beautiful campus.
I have a new chapter “Confronting Child Exploitation: The Optional Protocols and the Role of Children’s Rights Law" published in Violence against Children: Making Human Rights Real, edited by Gertrud Lenzer, Routledge, January 2018.
For more information on the book, click here.
This week, sixteen-year-old Mohamad Al Jounde from Syria was awarded the International Children's Peace Prize for his work ensuring the rights of Syrian refugee children. When he was 12 years old, Al Jounde, a Syrian refugee himself, decided that he was going to establish a school for children in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley refugee camp. He convinced family members and other volunteers to help build the school and to teach various classes. After only a few years, the school now provides education to 200 children.
Al Jounde’s inspirational work matters so much because Syrian refugee children have suffered both tremendous disruption in their lives and countless violations of their human rights. His work also matters because education has a multiplier effect; as Katarina Tomaševski, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, wrote: “Education operates as a multiplier, enhancing the enjoyment of all individual rights and freedoms where the right to education is effectively guaranteed, while depriving people of the enjoyment of many rights and freedoms where the right to education is denied or violated.”
Al Jounde’s work is also a poignant reminder: Not only do children’s rights matter, so do children’s voices. Children are powerful allies in the movement to secure human rights for all. Mohamad Al Jounde’s advocacy on behalf of refugees. Malala Yousafzai’s bravery in standing up to the Taliban. The thousands of courageous children who marched in the Birmingham Children’s Crusade in 1963 to challenge racial discrimination in the United States. And countless other young people who have worked to fulfill the ideal that human rights belong to all. The youth of yesterday and today offer innumerable models of courage.
We should celebrate Mohamad Al Jounde’s work. And, as we do, we should remind ourselves of the transformative capabilities of young people and ensure that their voices and ideas are heard.
This blog was first published on the Human Rights at Home blog.
Adolescents’ Right to Participate: Opportunities and Challenges for Health Care Professionals
Jonathan Todres & Angela Diaz
BACKGROUND: Health care professionals and patients are partners in health care delivery, and this partnership is critical in the treatment of adolescents. International children’s rights law establishes that all children have a right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Fulfillment of that right is as critical in health care settings as any other area of children’s lives.
OBJECTIVES: In this article we examine the right to participate under international children’s rights law, its relevance to health care settings, and how health care professionals can foster adolescents’ participation to fulfill children’s rights and improve health care outcomes.
FINDINGS: The Convention on the Rights of the Child establishes a legal mandate—where ratified— that adolescents have the right to express their views in health care settings and that such views must be given due consideration. In many health care settings, adolescents are not adequately consulted or have limited opportunities to express their views. A review of research finds that both processes and outcomes can improve when youth participation is cultivated.
CONCLUSIONS: Health care providers and organizations have numerous opportunities to cultivate adolescent’s participation rights and in doing so improve health care delivery and outcomes. Health care providers and organizations should further develop structures and processes to ensure opportunities for children and adolescents to be heard on matters relevant to their health care and health status. Creating opportunities for adolescents to realize their right to participate means engaging youth at every stage in the process, beginning with the design of such opportunities. It also means addressing all aspects of health care, from the built environment to patient-provider communication to follow-up services, so that the entire process fosters an environment conductive to meaningful participation by adolescents
Click here for the full article.
I’m worried about Santa Claus. While physicists have speculated—amusingly but rather Scrooge-like— about his existence, my concern is whether Santa and his entire operation are sustainable. A few observations:
1. Health. “Without your health, you have nothing” or so every relative older me has told me at least once. Santa appears to face two issues. First, by all accounts, he’s obese. That puts him at heightened risk for a range of chronic diseases. We know poor diets and sedentary lifestyles are the primary causes of obesity (I don't know Santa’s family history, so I have no idea if he is genetically predisposed to obesity). The North Pole seems to offer limited fruits and vegetables. And the cold probably seriously limits outdoor activity. Next he’s often pictured smoking a pipe. Santa, it’s 2018. Everyone knows smoking is terrible for your health. Quit. For the kids (or for the elves who work for you and are exposed to second hand smoke). Finally, Santa seems quite old. He exerts a lot of energy in one night, up and down chimneys, carrying presents. How long can he keep this up?
2. Safety. Everyone understandably is worried about terrorism these days. Is Santa a potential target, given his high profile? Maybe, but I’m more concerned about road (air) safety. No one knows his precise flight plan. And his sleigh does not appear to have a seatbelt or airbags. This seems to be an easy issue to fix.
3. His business model. There are potentially serious issues with Santa’s business model. He never charges for presents. That’s mighty generous, but where is his revenue stream? How does he stay in business? Perhaps he’s cutting production costs. How? Are the elves paid minimum wage? Is Santa complying with other labor regulations? With growing attention to corporate social responsibility, it’s inevitable that someone will ask about Santa’s supply chains. He needs to get out front of this story and ensure his supply chains are free of trafficked, forced, or child labor. Related to this, the way he works his reindeer might attract the attention of animal rights groups. He probably should address this too.
4. Finally, climate change. The polar cap is melting. I don’t know how close the melting is to Santa’s workshop, but he needs a contingency plan. Relocating closer to the equator (though not too close to a coastline) might help, while also enabling him to eat better and exercise more. It’s potentially a win/win situation.
Anticipating the impact of climate change, addressing any potential human rights issues in his supply chains, and getting healthier would position Santa to achieve long-term sustainability. That would make a lot of kids happy.
Every child in the world ‘should grow up in a family environment, in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding’ and be raised ‘in the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity’. This bold vision, announced by the United Nations almost 30 years ago, was not merely aspirational – it was part of the foundation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Adopted in 1989, the Convention, or CRC, was the first comprehensive human rights treaty on children.
The CRC establishes a framework for ensuring the rights and well-being of all children. It covers both civil and political rights (such as freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment) and economic, social, and cultural rights (such as the right to education). It also includes rights unique to children (such as the right to know and be cared for by one’s parents).
A transformative human rights treaty
While the scope of the treaty is impressive, what makes the CRC potentially transformative is that it establishes a legal mandate. This means governments must respect and ensure the rights of every child, and conversely, children—and their parents or other caregivers acting on their behalf—can use the CRC to insist that governments do not violate their rights.
Since the advent of the CRC we have witnessed dramatic progress on many issues affecting children. Globally, under-five child mortality has declined by more than half, from approximately 12.7 million children annually to fewer than six million. School enrolment has increased, and child labour has dropped.
Although these are reasons to celebrate, a lot of work remains. Far too many young children die each year from malnutrition and other preventable causes. Universal primary education, while closer to reality, has yet to be realised. And progress on child labour has slowed. What’s more, the global numbers mask disparities across and within countries. In some areas – especially armed conflicts – children continue to suffer multiple rights violations. Governments must do more to fulfil the CRC’s mandate.
Children flourish when their rights are respected
Successful implementation of the CRC requires greater emphasis on the treaty’s core provisions: The best interests of the child must inform all actions concerning children (Article 3), and the rights in the treaty must be assured to all children without discrimination of any kind (Article 2). Every provision of the CRC is relevant to ensuring each child can develop to his or her full potential. That said, two CRC ideas are particularly noteworthy:
- Article 12 establishes that children have the right to express their views “in all matters affecting the child” and to have their views be given “due weight” in accordance with their age and maturity. This means that youth have the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. Equally important, youth participation improves outcomes. Children and adolescents can offer insights that are critical to the success of policies and programmes for children. Policy makers and other adults must include children more to ensure their input.
- The CRC says that the family is ‘the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children’. Nineteen provisions of the CRC recognise the vital role of parents and the family in the lives of children. Supporting children’s rights means advancing policies and programmes that support families and address systemic issues that make it difficult for children and their families to realise their rights.
Honouring children’s rights
Recognising children’s agency and inherent dignity while supporting families honours children’s rights in a way that is responsive to children’s development
Given the CRC places the primary legal obligation on the state, it’s fair to ask how each of us can support children’s rights. Eleanor Roosevelt once stated that universal human rights begin ‘in small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world... Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.’
Each of us can support and strengthen children’s rights by beginning close to home. We can engage children in a dialogue about rights (their own and the rights of others). We can advocate for children’s rights. And, most important of all, we can listen to and ensure that all children are heard on matters that affect their lives.
This essay was first published on the Amnesty International UK website.
I'm honored to have been profiled on the Share My Lesson website for my work on human rights in children's literature.
See below for an excerpt and link to the full profile:
The shuttle to Logan airport picked me up at 4:40 am. I had given a presentation the day before and was returning home early in time to teach my afternoon class. If you haven’t been on the road before 5:00 am, I recommend it for only one reason: it provides a valuable reminder of how many people work really hard. In the darkness of that hour, while most people are sleeping and most businesses are closed, you'll come across overnight desk clerks at hotels, shuttle drivers, 24-hour gas station attendants, long distance truck drivers, and others working through the night. It has been a long time since I worked all night, but I recall the toll it takes. And for some people, that night shift is one of two jobs they’ll work that day. I suppose, in this bizarro world of today’s politics, I expected to acknowledge that it is possible the hotel desk clerk was in fact an undercover millionaire who just liked working nights. However, contrary to what some politics pundits might suggest, the exception--if it exists--does not disprove the rule. Most people do not prefer to spend their nights working and away from their families. What came to me during the hour-long ride to the airport is the importance of human rights: the right to a fair wage, decent working conditions, health care, and more. Most of us working in human rights understandably focus our energy on individuals or communities confronting urgent and often severe violations of human rights. But being on the road before 5:00 am is a reminder that human rights remains relevant to all individuals, in all walks of life.
First published at Human Rights at Home blog.